Project code



School of Biological Sciences

Start dates

October, February and April

Application deadline

Applications accepted all year round

Applications are invited for a 3-year self-funded PhD.

The PhD will be based in the Faculty of Science and Health, and will be supervised by Dr Frank SchubertDr Garry Scarlett and Dr Sam Robson.

The work on this project will involve:

  • Analysis of ancient and modern DNA
  • Bioinformatics and phylogenetic analyses
  • Applying molecular genetics techniques to heritage context
  • Collaboration with academic partners across the UK
  • Interaction with local stakeholders like Fishbourne Roman Palace

Cattle, sheep and goats have been used in agriculture on the British Isles for many centuries. Archaeological studies of Celtic Iron Age, Roman, and medieval sites have highlighted morphological characteristics of the animals, and have indicated major shifts in agricultural practice. Modern molecular techniques, notably the analysis of ancient DNA, now allow us to revisit the history of farm animals in Britain over the past two millennia. The aim of the project is to analyse the heritage of agricultural animal breeds in Britain. It resides in the University's Culture and Heritage Hub, a multidisciplinary grouping underpinning heritage research in Portsmouth and surrounding regions.

The first part of the project builds on an existing collaboration with Rob Symmons (Fishbourne Roman Palace), Naomi Sykes (University of Exeter), Greger Larson (University of Oxford), and Laurent Frantz (Queen Mary University of London). This work aims at identifying the ancient cattle breed(s) at the Fishbourne site, and their relation with British and Roman breeds. While a change in the use of cattle during the transition from Iron Age to Roman period has been well documented, it is not clear if the accompanying increase in cattle size was due to selective breeding of local cattle, or the introduction of breeds from the continent. The genetic history of the cattle remains at Fishbourne Roman Palace will be profiled using targeted PCR amplification, as well as high throughput sequencing technologies.

The second part of the project, in collaboration with local stakeholders, aims at characterising the genetic origin of traditional breeds. Some of these are kept at Butser Ancient Farm and Weald and Downland Visual Museum, whilst others will be accessed through breeders. For this part, modern DNA from the animals representing the old breeds will be analysed using targeted PCR to reveal the ancestry of the breeds.

The successful candidate will undergo in-house training for a variety of instruments and techniques essential to the project, as well as the opportunity for additional training at partner institutions. You'll also be part of a truly multi-disciplinary research group aiming to utilise cutting-edge research to answer questions about our past and how we got here today.


  1. Allen, M. & Sykes, N. New animals, new landscapes and new worldviews. Sussex Archaeol. Collect. 149, 7–24 (2011).
  2. Rizzetto, M., Crabtree, P. J. & Albarella, U. Livestock Changes at the Beginning and End of the Roman Period in Britain: Issues of Acculturation, Adaptation, and ‘Improvement’. Eur. J. Archaeol. 20, 535–556 (2017).
  3. Zouganelis, G. D. et al. An old dog and new tricks: Genetic analysis of a Tudor dog recovered from the Mary Rose wreck. Forensic Sci. Int. 245, 51–57 (2014).

Fees and funding

Visit the research subject area page for fees and funding information for this project.

Funding availability: Self-funded PhD students only. 

PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (UK and EU students only).

Bench fees

Some PhD projects may include additional fees – known as bench fees – for equipment and other consumables, and these will be added to your standard tuition fee. Speak to the supervisory team during your interview about any additional fees you may have to pay. Please note, bench fees are not eligible for discounts and are non-refundable.

Entry requirements

You'll need an upper second class honours degree from an internationally recognised university or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

The project would suit a science graduate with experience in molecular techniques, particularly ancient DNA analysis, and an interest in bioinformatics, who is curious to apply this methodology to archaeological and heritage questions. It will require initiative, the willingness to interact with stakeholders and the public, and the ability to work across disciplines.

How to apply

We'd encourage you to contact Dr Frank Schubert at to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, please follow the 'Apply now' link on the Biological Siences PhD subject area page and select the link for the relevant intake. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this self-funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code BIOL4741020 when applying.